So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 33:7-8)
James Rowe is one of the more prolific composers featured in our hymnals, and yet most of us have probably not heard of him. He was born in Devonshire and worked for the Irish government before immigrating to the United States in his late 20s. Eventually, he became a full-time writer, composing hymns and editing music journals for publishers in Tennessee and Texas. Among his best-known works are, “Home of the Soul,” “Ring Out the Message,” Redeemed,” and “Love Lifted Me.”
My favorite composition of his is unfortunately not featured in our current songbook, though it has frequently appeared in hymnals in the past. I seldom have heard it sung in other congregations even when in the book, but I imagine that many of us know it. It is entitled, “You Never Mentioned Him to Me,” and it speaks directly to the concept that emerges from the text in Ezekiel above.
When in the better land before the bar we stand,
How deeply grieved our souls will be;
If any lost one there should cry in deep despair,
“You never mentioned Him to me.”
The song pictures Judgment Day, as we stand ready to hear our fate pronounced. But before our appearance at the bench, another is condemned to eternal death. He cries out an accusation toward us, expanded on in the chorus:
“You never mentioned Him to me,
You helped me not the light to see;
You met me day by day and knew I was astray,
Yet never mentioned Him to me.”
That is a harrowing thought – and, perhaps, that is why the song is sung so infrequently. It makes us uncomfortable. But the hymn isn’t intended to make us feel guilty about our shortcomings in talking about Jesus as an end in itself; that traumatic scene is designed to motivate us to avoid such a possibility. Notice the second and third verses:
O let us spread the word where’er it may be heard,
Help groping souls the light to see,
That yonder none may say, “You showed me not the way,
You never mentioned Him to me.”
A few sweet words may guide a lost one to his side,
Or turn sad eyes on Calvary;
So work as days go by, that yonder none may cry,
“You never mentioned Him to me.”
The song reminds us that we are watchmen. Scripture charges us to take the good news about Jesus to others, to sow the seed. Now, we know that not all soil is fertile; the responsibility to respond to the gospel lies with the hearers, not with us. As Ezekiel continues, But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.(Ezekiel 33:9) Our charge is to be faithful – to plant and water, but to leave the growth to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
I have occasionally encountered objections to this song from those who do not appreciate poetic license – Scripture never indicates anything like this can or will happen at Judgment. Perhaps not. But the imagery reminds us of what is happening, in reality, every day of our lives. If we are faithful to our comission, whether we are successful in our efforts or not, this hymn should be an encouragement. But if we are not, songs like this should be a powerful appeal to redouble our efforts. Which is it for us?